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Winning Arts And Community Collaborative Grants For Outsized Results

by Rolling Stone Culture Council / Powerful Networking

We all know the arts are not a "frill" in our society. They inspire us with beauty for our senses, reduce stress and anxiety, help us connect across language, racial, and socioeconomic barriers, and help us learn to think critically and creatively. The arts also prepare young people for success in school, work, and life, and are a powerful economic driver.

If you're reading this article, you probably already know the value of the arts to society and how the arts build communities and impact lives. You also know the uphill battle most arts and culture organizations face in order to survive.

One of the major obstacles is a lack of funding.  This is especially true for small and medium-sized organizations, which often have difficulty competing for grant money.

Grant-writing for collaborative community-based projects can be an effective way to increase your chances of success. By working with other arts and culture organizations in your area, you can pool your resources and create a stronger case for funding.

Here are some statistics you can share when making your case to others for arts and community grants, followed by concrete action steps to take that will help you and your partners build a better tomorrow for your community.

Arts impact education

The arts are an essential part of a well-rounded education. Creativity is ranked as one of the top three personality traits most important to career success, according to U.S. employers in a study by Americans for the Arts. In addition:

  • Teaching creativity develops critical thinking skills, engages students, and fosters innovation
  • In a survey of college-educated, full-time employees, ages 25+, 85% agreed that creative thinking is critical for problem solving in their career. 71% say creative thinking should be taught as a course, like math and science. While 78% stated that creativity is very important to their career, only 57% thought so when they were in college 
  • 56% of employers and 79% of superintendents agree that a college degree in the arts is the most significant indicator of creativity in a prospective job applicant  
  • 97% of superintendents surveyed agreed that music develops creativity, but only 17% of their schools require music courses for graduation  
  • Arts in the schools increase test scores and lower dropout rates. 

Above and beyond encouraging creativity, there are many other reasons to provide arts education for our youth. These include:

  • All students get to participate in the arts, both in the school and in the community 
  • The arts can positively affect school culture, especially student motivation, attitudes, and attendance
  • A student involved in the arts is 4x more likely to be recognized for academic achievement
  • Low-income students who are highly engaged in the arts are more than 2x as likely to graduate from college as their peers with no arts education
  • Students involved in the arts are:
    • 4x more likely to participate in a math and science fair
    • 3x more likely to win an award for school attendance
    • 4x more likely to be recognized for academic achievement
    • 3 more likely to be elected to class office
  • Students with a low socioeconomic status but high arts participation drop out at 4%, while their economic peers with low arts participation drop out at 22%

In addition:

  • Sixty-two academic research studies demonstrate that arts education helps close the achievement gap, improves academic skills that are essential for reading and language development, and advances students' motivation to learn
  • Data from the College Board show that in 2015, students who took four years of arts and music classes while in high school (18% of test-takers) scored an average of 92 points higher on their SATs (score of 1077) than students who took only one-half year or less (score of 985) (16% of test takers). 

Since test scores and graduation rates are the means by which education "success" is measured, grant writers can use statistics like these that demonstrate the power of arts education for school, work, and life success. In the process of developing collaborative opportunities to work with students, grants also provide opportunities for artists who are currently living and working in your community.

Arts impact the economy

According to the “Statement on Arts, Jobs, and the Economy”:

The arts drive economic activity, with the nonprofit arts industry alone generating $135 billion in economic activity annually (spending by organizations and their audiences), supporting 4.1 million jobs and generating $22.3 billion in government revenue. 

The arts are beneficial to local businesses. Attendees at nonprofit arts events spend $24.60 per person, per event, beyond the cost of admission on items such as meals, parking, and babysitters. These expenditures boost the local economy and support the community.

The arts are part of the US export industry, with a $30 billion trade surplus in 2014. Arts exports include movies, paintings, jewelry, and more, which exceeded $60 billion.

As part of the tourism industry, international travelers visited art galleries and museums (up from 17% in 2003 to 29% in 2015), and attended concerts, plays, and musicals (increasing from 13 to 16% in that time period). 

The arts impact mental health, resilience, and tolerance

In addition to encouraging creativity, participating in the arts also relieves stress, increases brain elasticity, and provides other mental health benefits.

There are various places on the internet where you will find that "the average person has 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day..." While there's some question about how those numbers were arrived at, it's certainly true that the human brain is constantly processing stimuli, and part of that processing includes creating tens of thousands of "thoughts" every day. The vast majority of those thoughts (some say as much as 80 to 90%) are repetitive and negative. Arts participation helps us manage all those negative, repetitive thoughts:

Displaying or performing art increases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which helps you feel good. Dopamine also increases your drive, focus, impulse control, and concentration.

Creating art can help you get into a meditative-like flow state. According to the Mayo Clinic, meditation benefits include:

  • Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
  • Building skills to manage your stress
  • Increasing self-awareness
  • Focusing on the present
  • Reducing negative emotions
  • Increasing imagination and creativity (there it is again!)
  • Increasing patience and tolerance
  • Lowering resting heart rate
  • Lowering resting blood pressure
  • Improving sleep quality

Whether writing a poem or a book, writing code, practicing or playing an instrument, doing needlework, drawing, memorizing a script, or almost any other creative endeavor, getting into flow in that activity focuses your mind, reduces stress and pushes aside negative, repetitive thoughts.

When you are mentally engaged in a new or complex activity, you create new connections between brain cells, and between different parts of the brain. Your brain's ability to do this throughout your life is called neuroplasticity. The more connections you have, the more resilient you become to emotional stress.

A study of students who visited an art museum found that not only could they recall factual details weeks later, and not only did the visit improve their critical thinking skills, but the students also experienced significant increases in historical empathy and tolerance of others

It's clear that the arts play a major role in mental health, both in terms of managing negative thoughts and improving empathy and tolerance.

Find other creative arts and culture leaders with whom to collaborate by joining Rolling Stone Culture Council.
Click here to see if you qualify.

The arts can improve physical health and help with surgical recovery

There is plenty of evidence that participating in the arts, or even just observing art, can have a positive impact on physical health. Looking at art, whether it's painting, sculpture, architecture, or any other form of visual art can:

  • Reduce pain
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve heart function
  • Reduce anxiety and depression symptoms
  • Ease stress

In one study, researchers found that art on the walls of patients recovering from surgery, especially images of nature, "can have positive effects on health outcomes, including shorter length of stay in hospital, increased pain tolerance, and decreased anxiety". They also analyzed the effects of different colors and found that some colors elicited a state of calm, compared to other colors. They concluded that "patients who are ill or stressed about their health... prefer the positive distraction and state of calm created by the blues and greens of landscape and nature scenes."

As you may expect, music also affects health outcomes, according to a study of 7000 patients, published in The Lancet. "Listening to music before, during, or after a surgical procedure is beneficial to patients and can significantly reduce pain and anxiety, and decrease the need for pain medication."


Grant-writing for collaborative projects

Now that you have some data backing up the importance of the arts, it's time to create the project and get it funded. Here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Define the scope of the project

Be clear about what the project is and what it will entail. This will make it easier to find potential partners and to develop a clear plan for the grant application.

2. Identify partners

See if there are any community organizations or individuals who would be interested in collaborating on the project. Look for arts and culture organizations that complement your own strengths and weaknesses. This will give you the best chance of success.

To find partners, look for:

  • arts organizations
  • healthcare facilities
  • banks and other community-based businesses
  • arts agencies
  • individual artists
  • nonprofit organizations
  • government-based departments like schools
  • prior community grant recipients
  • local arts that are already successful
  • artists communities
  • arts programs
  • online communities of other leaders in the arts and culture sector

Additional research you can do includes finding out the answers to these questions:

  • Who has received grants already, and from whom?
  • What grants programs already exist?
  • What arts grants are being publicized?
  • What grants for arts projects have been successful in your community in the past?
  • Which cultural projects seem to get grants awarded most easily?

3. Create a vision for the project

Assemble your team and ask questions like these:

  • What is the purpose of this project?
  • Who will benefit most?
  • What are the long-term goals?
  • Is this a short-term project or is it sustainable over a longer period of time?
  • Who are the stakeholders? How can you get them on board before you even submit the grant?
  • Are there any potential partners you haven't thought of yet?
  • Are you working with a grant that already has predetermined outcomes, or can you work with an open-ended grant organization?

Next, it’s important to delegate tasks so everyone is clear about their roles and responsibilities. This will help ensure that the project runs smoothly.

4. Be prepared to compromise

Collaborative projects can be challenging, and there may be times when you need to compromise in order to keep the project on track. Be prepared to make concessions and negotiate with your partners.

5. Develop a budget

Create a realistic budget for the project, taking into account all the potential costs involved. Consider every possible detail that might arise.  Include everything from materials to salaries to overhead costs. Then look for ways to cut costs without compromising the quality of the project. This will help you get an accurate picture of the project's costs and make it more likely that your grant application will be approved.

6. Build a strong case for the project

Be sure to highlight how the project will benefit the community and what makes it unique. Use data and statistics to support your case. This is where you need to "sell" your vision to the grant makers.  They need to see how the project will make a difference and why it is worth funding.

7. Write the grant application

Once you have all the pieces in place, you can start writing the grant. Be clear and concise in your proposal, and make sure to address all the required elements. Start by clearly stating the goals of the project and how it will benefit the community.

Include a detailed budget and a timeline for the project. Be sure to proofread the grant carefully before submitting it. Be sure to follow the grant guidelines closely.

Include a section on evaluation, so you can show how you will measure the success of the project. This will be important to grant makers and will help you track the project's progress.

8. Submit the grant application

After you have written the grant, it's time to submit it. Make sure to submit it on time and to the correct address.

Be sure to keep a copy of the application for your records.

You will usually need to submit a cover letter with your grant application. This is your chance to make a good first impression. Be sure to introduce yourself and your organization and explain why you are applying for the grant. Talk about the enhanced value of the collaboration you are proposing.

Be clear about how much money you are requesting and what you will use it for. Be sure to thank the grant maker for their time and consideration.

You may also want to include a short summary of the project, known as an executive summary. This should be no more than one page and should highlight the key points of the proposal.

Make sure to include all the required attachments with your application. These could include things like letters of support, budgets, or evaluations.

9. Follow up after you submit the grant

After you submit the grant application, it's important to follow up with the grant maker.

Thank them for their time and let them know that you are available to answer any questions they may have about the project. This shows that you are committed to the project and that you are serious about getting the funding.

It is also important to stay in touch with the grant maker after you receive the grant. Keep them updated on your progress and let them know how their money is being used. This will help build a relationship with the grant maker and could lead to future funding opportunities.

The arts can play a vital role in the community, but they need funding to survive. Grant-writing for community-based collaborative projects can be a great way to get the funding you need to support your project. By working together, you can make a strong case for the arts and get the funding you need to make your vision a reality.